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by Steven Mayfield

Pub Date: April 1st, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-64603-004-0
Publisher: Regal House Publishing

The appearance of an ocean blob causes folks in a small seaside town to believe that they are all rich in this comic novel.

On the first day of summer vacation in 1934, a mysterious and malodorous blob washes up on the beach of Tesoro, California. Ten-year-old Connor O’Halloran manages to reach the lumpy mass even before the local lighthouse keeper, thus establishing his claim over it—though just what it is he doesn’t know. “The mass was large—as broad as the base of a giant redwood tree and nearly as tall as me,” remembers Connor, now narrating the story as an elderly man. “It smelled of manure and barnacles and was certainly the most disgusting object I had ever encountered.” The lighthouse keeper tells him it’s ambergris—a valuable discharge from whales used by the perfume industry—and that it may well be worth millions. News of the find quickly makes its way through the seaside town that the O’Halloran family, which includes Connor’s mentally ill mother, Mary Rose, and his 6-year-old brother, Alex, is rich. The generous Connor decides that he will share the wealth with the town—it’s the height of the Depression, after all—and the citizens of Tesoro immediately set about figuring out how to sell the thing. When town miser Cyrus Dinkle offers lines of credit to all the families so that they can start spending their money now, a buying spree of epic (and opulent) proportions begins. Connor hopes that his share of the profits may be used to finally get a good doctor to end his mother’s bouts of mania and depression. But when he discovers that his mound of ambergris is actually mostly sewage, Connor and a few trusted others—who dub themselves the Ambergrisians—must figure out a way to prevent Dinkle from bankrupting the entire town.

Mayfield’s novel has a wonderful tall tale quality, matched perfectly with its semifantastic, semibelievable pre–World War II American setting. Though the premise may sound middle grade, the mannerly prose style of the elderly narrator tips the story into the realm of adult literary fiction: “Every boy has a friend with an older brother happy to introduce an innocent younger sibling and his pals to pornography. Mine was Webb Garwood, whose brother Tuck had already initiated our education with a library of postcard photos depicting Rubenesque women and hairy men engaged in naked Greco-Roman wrestling.” There is a warmth and energy to the author’s depiction of his characters, particularly the town midwife, Miss Lizzie Fryberg, who becomes Connor’s mentor in his schemes. Likewise, Tesoro’s population of oddballs and colorful personalities means that someone intriguing is always entering or exiting the scene. There are a few moments when the pacing lags or the prose becomes slightly too self-indulgent, but generally, the story moves with a purpose. Readers looking for a slightly stylized yarn of small-town drama will find much to enjoy in this charming book.

A whale of a tale concerning a boy who tries to lift everyone’s spirits.